Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I just checked out Marvel’s new online comic downloading service. I’ve got sort of mixed emotions about it.
On the one hand, I like the idea of having instant access to back issues of books that aren’t out in trade paperback. While I have great affection for all the silver and bronze age Marvel stuff, I’m not prepared to plunk down a small fortune for the Marvel Masterworks and I understand that all that stuff isn’t really easily marketable in trade format. Who wants to pay 18-24 bucks for six or eight issues of done-in-one IRON MAN or DAREDEVIL in paperback? Besides me, that is. Up until now, I’ve relied on the Marvel ESSENTIALS line to get my fix and, while I love being able to see the artwork in black and white, a lot of this stuff really works best in color.
On the other hand, the whole thing has some drawbacks. For one, the site is slow as molasses. I don’t want to wait five or ten minutes (and I’m on a lightning-fast connection) only to find out I clicked on the wrong issue. For another, since you’re just renting the books (it’s online only), the price is a little steep. $9.99 a month or $59.88 per year. I can’t see them attracting many casual comic readers with that kind of expense.
My biggest concern is whether or not the creators are being compensated in any way. I know that Marvel recently started putting artwork on CORBIS, the stock photo site used by companies (like the ad agency where I work.) I also know that the artists that created that artwork don’t get spit. This is one of the reasons there are so many covers on current books with heroes just standing there looking cool. The artists have to sign away any future rights to the work if they want to get paid and that leaves the publisher free to use the artwork on T-shirts, posters, lunchboxes, toy packaging, etc., without having to pay those lucrative freelance fees for merchandising art. I can’t help but wonder if online comics is yet another way for publishers to get around paying creators for royalties based on how many copies of a given book are sold. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any inside information on the subject. This is just guessing on my part. My only hope is that if there isn’t a plan in place to give the guys who created these great comics a slice of this digital pie, then there’s one forthcoming.
This is the very close to the issue at the heart of the current Hollywood writers strike. (Royalties on DVD sales and online downloads.) If artists and writers aren’t making any money on this latest venture, then it seems to me that the American comics industry is very fortunate that the creative folk never unionized.
Posted by Matt Wieringo at 11:16 AM